Throwing in the towel - eco laundry detergent

A Bold Move – does eco laundry detergent actually work?

First off, let us apologise for being a bit late on this post. As the title may suggest, we’ve already hit upon some failure in our quest to be green.

This weeks post is about everyone’s favourite chore, laundry. But until we can afford a maid, it’s got to be done by us.

Part of the reason this post took a long time to write was, without wanting to ruin the ending, that it involved a lot of washing, rewashing and rewashing again of clothes. So while we hoped to save the planet by using eco laundry detergent, we certainly made up for it by increasing our energy consumption massively. Our one saving grace is that at least we use 100% renewable/carbon neutral energy.

Anyway, let’s start with why we’re seeing if we can swap to eco laundry detergent. We’ve been using Ariel washing pods for a long time and they give us clean clothes and sheets, so that’s the standard we expect to keep. Not a ludicrous requirement we think. They also save us a good few seconds every time we do the washing, as we can just throw them into the machine without having to measure anything. Our time is precious and think of what we could do with that extra couple of seconds – a cuddle with our daughter; a cuddle with our dog; another sip of wine (we all know which one of those wins…).

We started by analysing the contents of our Ariel pods to see what’s so bad about the ingredients. We consulted Wikipedia to understand the technical jargon. Then we re-googled them when we discovered that Wikipedia was far too technical for us:

  • >30% Anionic Surfactants & <5% Non-Ionic surfactants
    • Surfactants are what remove stains in washing powder and most products that are designed to remove dirt (by ionizing and negatively charging to bind to positively charged particles like dirt – yey, science!), but they’re also often petroleum-based and take many years to biodegrade
  • 5-15% Soap
    • Let’s hope we all know what soap is
  • Phosphonates
    • This is the bleaching part of the liquid, which also has poor biodegradability
  • Enzymes
    • Apparently the enzymes used in washing powder aren’t bad for the environment. They used to be bad for the people who made them in factories, that’s been fixed and the factory workers are now insanely happy with their lot
  • Optical Brighteners
    • As the name suggested, these optical brighteners make your clothes appear brighter (really they’re an optical illusion – see what they did there?) and again they’re not biodegradable. They do also make your clothes glow in UV light, which of course we all love
  • Perfumes, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Citronellol, Coumarin & Linalool
    • For that fresh laundry whiff
Disodium Distyrylbiphenyl Disulfonate
What do you mean you didn’t know that this was Disodium Distyrylbiphenyl Disulfonate?

So looking at the above, we’ve got various non-biodegradable chemicals, some soap and some chemical perfumes. If you delve further and look at the list in full on the Ariel website, it’s a list of 38 different chemicals going into the pods, which doesn’t feel good. Whilst eco options do still have some of the same chemicals, they contain far smaller amounts.

Our independent, scientific test began by going to our local sustainable supermarket and seeing what they had. We bought Bio-D Fresh Juniper Laundry Liquid – I mean, who doesn’t want their clothing to smell like gin? Whilst it came in a plastic bottle, it could be refilled, so the plan was to reuse the bottle many times.

Excited by our latest switch, we put the laundry on soon as we got home. After a bit of faffing (the bottle gave the liquid amount in ml but no markings on the cap, so had to fill the cap with water, pour it into a measuring spoon, add up the amounts, blah blah blah) we got cracking. We stuck to our usual (40°C, 1 hour cycle) to ensure the test was a fair comparison. A tense and stressful hour unfolded. There may have even been some pacing to and fro. We eventually heard the familiar tune that our washing machine plays when it finishes (yes, it’s as aggravating as that sounds). Skipping gleefully to the washing machine, we opened the washing machine door to find…duh duh duh….drum roll…that half of the laundry was still dirty. Argh.

Dirty t-shirt
Here is a badly taken photo of a t-shirt that had been washed twice and is still dirty

We did persevere with the Bio-D though. Over the past few weeks we’ve tried different laundry liquid amounts, different wash cycles and using non-eco Vanish on stains that hadn’t come out. Unfortunately none of this helped – our clothes just haven’t been that clean.

Our next step was going to be trying homemade washing detergent as there are loads of recipes out that. However we got freaked out when we stumbled across various pretty gross articles showing the grime that was left behind when you used soap rather than surfactants. But at least that explains why eco laundry detergent still use surfactants rather than removing them all together.

We felt very disheartened. We had no desire to look like little cherub-faced urchins from a Charles Dickens film, where our whites were actually murky grey. And we didn’t feel that trialling lots of eco laundry detergents that in turn required lots of re-washing and therefore meant higher energy consumption seemed like the way to go.

So we threw in the towel and have gone back to chemical washing powder. We have tried to make a slight positive switch, as we haven’t gone back to the washing pods we used before, which came in a plastic tub. We’ve now got a giant cardboard box of washing powder sat by the washing machine – whilst it looks pretty ugly, at least we can recycle the packaging at the end.

So our final word to you is a cry for help: Has anyone ever used an eco laundry detergent that actually works?? Please let us know if you have.

6 thoughts on “A Bold Move – does eco laundry detergent actually work?”

  1. Why is it so difficult? Is it all a giant conspiracy by the FMCG industry? I feel disheartened!

    1. I am tempted to think it’s just that chemicals clean better than soap alone – there’s a reason people’s clothes looked grey in the olden days 🙂

  2. Very informative. Thank you. Disappointing result but it comes as no surprise to me. Your research and trial was very interesting. Now at least we know why!!! Perhaps we should all start wearing black, grey and brown!

We'd love you to let us know what you think - please pop comments here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.